Academy of Sciences defends climate-change research, conclusions

McClatchy NewspapersMay 19, 2010 

WASHINGTON — The National Academy of Sciences, the nation's most prestigious scientific body, issued a strong defense of the science of climate change Wednesday and called for a long-lasting national policy to limit its effects.

One of its surprising findings was that the United States won't be able to meet its goal for cutting greenhouse gas emissions with the technology that's available now or even with what's expected to be developed in the next decade. New research and development on other solutions will be required to get the reductions at the lowest possible cost, the senior scientists who wrote one of the reports concluded.

The long-planned reports come as the Senate could be weeks away from discussing a draft bill that would put a price on emissions from large polluters such as power plants and refineries.

The scientific panel didn't analyze the draft bill, but it supported its main approach. It recommended that the government put a price on emissions of greenhouse gases and said the Senate bill's goal of an 80 percent reduction by 2050 was in the right range of what would be needed.

During the administration of President George W. Bush, Congress asked the National Academy of Sciences to issue the three-part report that it unveiled Wednesday. The report deals with what's known about climate change and what further research is needed, what the country should do to limit its damage and how it should adapt to changes that are unavoidable.

"These reports show that the state of climate change science is strong," Ralph J. Cicerone, the president of the National Academy of Sciences, said in a statement. "But the nation also needs the scientific community to expand upon its understanding of why climate change is happening, and focus also on when and where the most severe impacts will occur and what we can do to respond."

The report that summarizes the scientific understanding of climate change says that there's a "strong, credible body of evidence, based on multiple lines of research, documenting that climate is changing, and that these changes are in large part caused by human activities." It goes on to say that the "core phenomenon, scientific questions and hypotheses have been examined thoroughly and have stood firm in the face of serious scientific debate and careful evaluation of alternative explanations."

It sums up that understanding by saying that Earth's average surface temperature has risen, and says the cause over the last several decades has been human activities that release carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. Most of these gases are produced when coal, oil and gas are burned for energy, but some result from agriculture, forest clearing and industry.

The scientists reviewed information from research over the past five years that was too recent to have been included in the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The National Academy's scientists were well aware of attacks on the IPCC and scientists in general by organizations and commentators who think there's a conspiracy at work, said Pamela Matson, the dean of the School of Earth Sciences at Stanford University and the chair of the panel that wrote the report on the state of the science.

The new report was intended to be a readable, concise update on what scientists have learned, she said. "We hope our presentation of what is well-known, what we have high confidence in, will help us in this public discourse."

Scientists consider membership in the National Academy of Sciences a high honor. The academy elects members who've made distinguished achievements in research.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the order that established the National Academy of Sciences, and the organization has advised the government ever since. Its scientists and engineers volunteer to serve on committees that study questions posed by Congress and the White House.


The new reports from the National Academies

U.S. Global Change Research Program, "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States"

A guide for all ages by U.S. scientists: "Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Science"


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